By Sia Papadopoulos
Women have been smashing the charts and making history in an industry that has been historically male-dominated. Despite all the accomplishments, there are still lingering stereotypical connotations that surround women who are athletes.
Not only do women have to prove that they are “good enough”, but they also have to overcome limiting gender stereotypes in the process. As shocking as it may seem, women still face gender inequalities and discrimination in the world of athletics. We are not passed this yet.
Gender Inequalities & Discrimination
Women Champions (2017) published a major report on the status of Canadian women in sport. Some of their major findings stated that between the ages of 3-17, 41% of girls don’t participate in sports, and how that percentage jumps up to 84% in adulthood. They also revealed that women only get 5% of sport coverage, and that 99.6% of sponsorship dollars in the sports industry goes to male sports. Despite the numbers, we have seen the success of Canada’s female athletes showcased on the global stage. Among many hurdles that make it difficult for women to enjoy the benefits of sport, insufficient funding was among the top hurdles for women and girls.
Achieving Gender AND Cultural Diversity
Not only do women face discrimination and inequality in sport, but women of colour face an additional barrier simply because of their race. The lack of representation for women of colour is astonishing, and can be easily noticed with a simple Google search of “Canadian female athletes”, where the feed is flooded with white women. Debbie King, a 42-year old mother of one, and track and field athlete, has never allowed her race or age hold her back from dreaming big. In 2017, King was a double silver medalist (women’s 40-44 100m, 200m) at Canadian Masters Athletics Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
As a Black woman, King explained that she never allowed her skin colour to define her boundaries. King remembers trying out for a club volleyball team when she was younger, and felt like the “other” for the first time, in a gym filled with “tall white girls”. “In track I was surrounded by many Black girls, guys and coaches and very much felt a sense of belonging,” King recalls. “I believe parents, schools, sports organizations, the government, media and the private sector all have a role to play in providing diverse access to diverse opportunities for diverse girls and women.”
King emphasizes that through her accomplishments, and her goal to become a World Masters Athletics sprint champion at the 2020 Track and Field Championships, that age is not a limiting factor. “Look at Krista DuChene, who placed third in the 2018 Boston Marathon at age 41, and Karina LeBlanc who has translated her brilliant soccer career into something more amazing, and at age 38, seems to just be getting started,” she explained. King continues to be inspired by her older sister, her daughter, her faith, and female Olympians like Shelly-Ann Fraser Pyrce, Phylicia George, and Serena Williams to reach her own potential and influence other girls and women.
“That opportunity for improved health, personal development and achievement shouldn’t be limited to certain ages, cultures, body types, abilities, or socio-economic status. Individuals benefit, and we as a society benefit when women are empowered through sport” – Debbie King
Women are Leaders
Women are more than just athletes, they are mentors, coaches, and leaders. However, it is a challenge for women to enter the world of coaching with the stigmatized assumptions that women aren’t capable. Despite the increase in women as leaders in sport, women’s rate of involvement has historically been less than one-third compared to males. With coaching generally being male-dominated, it makes it even more difficult for women themselves to aspire to be in these roles.
Tina Cook, the new assistant coach of the soccer program at York University, knows exactly what it feels like to fear that her gender could potentially limit her opportunities in paid coaching positions. Before receiving her role as a soccer coach at the university level, Cook did feel that at times her abilities were being judged or doubted because she is a female. The biases around women in leadership roles has been so ingrained in society, that even women have a hard time believing that they have the capabilities to lead.
Cook believes that having positive female role models in the lives of young girls is extremely important, as she was lucky enough to be guided by many female coaches as a young athlete. “I think one of the most important things for young girls, is to see women in roles that they aspire to be,” Cook explained. “If we never see it, it is hard to believe it is possible.” Cook is looking to use her unique opportunity to enhance the lives of the women she coaches, both on and off the field.
“Having these women coach me at a young age, provided examples that I was able to relate to and allowed me to see the possibility that I could be in their shoes one day” – Tina Cook
Women are doubted, criticized, and undermined until they accomplish all things that society thought they never could. The new Nike ad, released a month ago, couldn’t have done a better job highlighting the ways in which women are judged based on common assumptions such as being too emotional, dramatic, and especially “crazy”. Serena Williams, the narrator of the ad, shows that time and time again, women’s dreams are seen as “crazy” until they’re accomplished. So as they suggest…dream crazier.
“So if they want to call you crazy, fine. Show them what crazy can do” – Serena Williams, Nike